Today’s reflection comes to us from longtime contributor and parishioner, Doreen Salse.
ONE OF US
Today is a beautiful balmy day in Southern California. I am sitting on the deck at my mother’s house, writing and listening to the birds sing and watching the trees sway in the warm breeze – hardly a day to think sad thoughts.
Minutes ago my cousin Sylvia sat here with me and with my mother, reminiscing about her daughter who would have celebrated her 40th birthday today.
“I can tell you this,” she said to my mother, “Because you will understand”. “You can lose your parents, your grandparents, your husband, but when you lose something, someone, that you made and was once inside of you – it’s the worst thing in the world. There are no words to describe it, it’s beyond anything you can say.”
My mother, who lost her daughter, my sister, our “center”, 2 years ago, could only nod her head.
As I write, “lost my sister”, I remember reading a book where the protagonist mused about using the word “lost” for someone who died. She said that the word connotes that that person is not gone, but only that we have carelessly and inadvertently misplaced them.
I believe there is a hope, hidden in that place where we suspend disbelief, that the precious lost will be found again, and all will be as it was.
My friends and I sometimes talk about how we are at the point in our lives when there is no one we know who has not experienced the grief that comes with the death of a loved one. The conversation touches on the helplessness and inadequacy of words to express our condolences. Somehow saying “I know how you feel” sounds hollow, no matter how sincerely we mean it. It’s as though grief, so universal, can remain at its core, uniquely personal, responding perhaps best to touch, tears and compassionate silence.
In some parts of the world, today, the Friday before Good Friday is called the Friday of Sorrows. It marks the beginning of celebrations commemorating Holy Week. The day is dedicated to the emotional suffering of the Virgin Mary caused by witnessing the Passion and death of her Son.
The activities vary from country to country: candle lit processions, public prayer, placing flowerbeds on the streets over which religious floats pass.
There is a ritual in Mexico that illustrates to me the power of hushed comfort, the gift of the humble and silent who speak best, not with many words, but mainly through their actions. I read about it in a 2008 meditation for Holy Week and Easter by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés called, “Massacre of the Dreamers and the Imitatio Maria.” I have freely excerpted from the article
Dar el pésame and the Imitatio Maria
Pésame — the giving of condolences, a special, highly personal sharing of comfort — is a ritual of Good Friday. In the rite I know from rural backwoods, the statue of La Nuestra Señora/The Blessed Mother is carried down from her nicho or her altar and placed in “the people’s tierra,” outside the altar rail.
There she stands then, often with a rebozo or mantilla draped over her head and shoulders… Her only child whom she suffered to give birth to alone on a cold desert night,and whom she fled with at night to avoid a slaughter of innocents, is dying….In ritual pésame, people come to church to be with her in her time of torment …In pésame, we do not witness the Passion with intellect or even only eyes, ears and heart. We share in it all the way down to our grief and courage bones……So, one by one at pésame, people come to sit in the little pews, staying close to La Señora; they will not leave her. Some bring her water. Some bring food. She will not eat or drink; we all know. But it is the offering, the preparation of that green chile, that posolé that matters as a source of caring shown….Then gradually, each person will come to her one by one, perhaps wipe her feet with their tears, touch her cheek, tell her in their own words how they understand her grieving, for they too have their own grief…Many a time a man or a woman or a teenager or a child or an old woman or old man will break down And the rest of us, well, you can feel it, like one giant collective sob pushing back the walls of the church as all of us are in union with one another — in mysterious ways, one mind, one heart, one soul. The way it’s supposed to be; the way it is.
At the close of her meditation Pinkola Estés touches on the call to comfort the sorrowful; a Spiritual Work of Mercy. A work that carries even more meeting in the this special year in which we are called to be increasingly compassionate. When we comfort others, we comfort ourselves, and we become one with the Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the cross.
May all of us, with infinite tenderness, comfort each other in this special lacuna of time and escape the hubris of either withholding comfort or else suffering in silence refusing to be comforted. May we all find certainty, each in our own way, that the clearest of the dreamers are still fully alive inside us despite the dark, and that the Immaculate Heart is not for hire by acts of perfection, but is inherent and comes when called. In case anyone might have forgotten for just a moment, it is also known by the name: Beloved.